anecdotes, chores, Germany, weather, Wiesbaden

All the trees are down…

and the sky is… actually sunny right now. For once, it’s not cloudy and gray outside, but I fear that will change in a few hours, when it starts snowing again.

We had snow in the wee hours of the morning, and sadly, the other crepe myrtle in our backyard was a casualty. Bill and I slept in, enjoying the ability to snooze through the dark hours of the morning. I got up to let Noyzi out, and beheld this sight…

We had two myrtle trees in our backyard. One of them mysteriously died a couple of years ago and we basically cut it down ourselves. The other held on for a bit longer, but was looking somewhat peaked this year. I noticed it wasn’t handling the very light snow very well. We’ve also had lots of rain lately, so the ground is very soggy and messy. I guess the snow that fell early this morning was too much for it. Bill was up at about 3am, letting the dogs out for a nocturnal whiz. He said it was really coming down then. But now it’s already melting, as the temperature isn’t very cold.

When I broke the news to Bill about the tree, he was feeling a bit traumatized and full of dread, given our harrowing experiences dealing with the landlady in our last house. But he went out and shoveled the common area, and when the landlord eventually made an appearance, he told him about the tree. The landlord said, “Okay, I’ll come take a look at it later.” Then he drove off in his car to go pick up a new battery.

I set about taking down the two Christmas trees. I’d actually kind of been looking forward to taking them down… The smaller tree had a dead string of lights on it that gave me the excuse to get rid of the other strands like it, which for some reason had about 30 feet of wire for about ten feet of actual lights, and huge boxy plugs that made it hard to plug them into a power strip. I don’t know why they were like that, but boy, were they annoying. But they did last eight Christmases, so I guess that’s pretty good.

I do like looking at the lights… and I will miss their colorful, homey glow in the living room, which is not very highly furnished. But once January comes around, it becomes necessary to dispense with the holiday decor. Oh… I guess I could just leave it up… I did have a friend whose dad left up the beautiful Christmas tree her late mother had put up many years ago. It was actually very pretty, even though it was a holiday relic that had been turned into art.

My friend was an artist herself, and is now a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina, which is where I attended graduate school. I met her in the early 90s when we both worked at a church summer camp in Virginia. She had New Year’s party one year in her hometown of Grottoes, Virginia, for all of us camp folks. That’s how I got to see her mom’s tree… and the beautiful farm her dad owned. I remember it snowed then, too, and we went sledding! Later, we played “Spin the Bottle”, which was weird. But it was also fun! Sometimes, I miss being young.

The landlord just rang the doorbell and he and Bill went out back. He took one look at the tree and said, “Maybe it’s too old. Does it bother you now?”

Bill said it didn’t, but he just wanted to let the landlord know.

The landlord said, “Okay, we’ll just leave it for now, and then when the whether dries up a bit, we’ll remove it and maybe get a gardener to come in and plant something else.”

This probably means Bill will have to re-lay the boundary for the lawnmower robot again. But maybe we’ll get a fruit tree or something.

Wow… the difference between landlord/landlady responses to falling things due to acts of God is astounding. Bill is relieved that went so smoothly. So am I. I don’t know that crepe myrtles were the best idea for that spot in the yard, anyway. The fence that separates our yard from our neighbor’s is overgrown with ivy in the summer. That probably had a lot to do with why the trees died.

Anyway… now we have a reason to plant a real garden, if we can keep Noyzi out of it. I will miss the shade in the summer, though… and the privacy. It’s sad when trees collapse. Rest in peace, crepe myrtle. I’m sure our dearly departed Zane will be happy to lift his leg on you once again, up there over the Rainbow Bridge.

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advice, Germany, housekeeping tips

Liability insurance… a small investment pays off…

Although I’ve been blogging about our travels since before we lived in Germany for the second time, I am aware that my “travel blog” has somewhat turned into a German living blog.  Many of my regular readers are Americans who live in the Stuttgart area.  Quite a few “local” readers are also somehow affiliated with the U.S. military.
A couple of months ago, I decided to leave several of our local Facebook groups.  I had a few reasons for doing so.  The main reason was that some of the drama in the local groups was causing me annoyance and distress.  However, I am grateful that I was in one of the local groups long enough to be talked into buying German liability insurance. 
One of our local Facebook groups is run by Gerhard Koch, a German who sells insurance for a living.  He very frequently advertises his products to group members.  He even hosts information dinners to talk up his insurance policies.  More than once, someone has accused him of using the group to bolster his business.  
It seems that many Americans assume that the insurance they can get through USAA or another American insurance company is enough for living here in Germany.  For all I know, that could be true.  Bill and I do have renter’s insurance through USAA that we’ve never had to use.  We recently had a situation in our rental property that we could have tried using our USAA insurance to cover.  However, I will go on record to say that I’m glad we didn’t have to go that route.    
A couple of years ago, I told Bill that I thought it would be a good idea to invest in German liability insurance.  Although at that time, we had not experienced it personally, I had read a lot of horror stories from people who had mishaps in their rental houses or had otherwise damaged someone’s property.  Germans are every bit as litigious as Americans are.  I know one woman who had a guest stay at her home in Germany and he somehow flooded and ruined their kitchen!  She and her husband did not have liability insurance and ended up having to use their life savings to cover the damage.  It amounted to many thousands of euros that they had to cover personally!
After hearing about that, I nagged Bill to buy the policy.  Actually, we got policies for personal liability and for our dogs, since both dogs and accidents are unpredictable.  Together, I think we spent a couple of hundred euros for a year’s coverage under both policies, which I believe cover us into millions of euros of potential damage.  It made me feel better to have that coverage.  For most of our marriage, Bill and I have been rather broke.  We are now pretty financially comfortable and, for the first time ever, don’t have to worry much about money.  In less than a year, my student loans will finally be paid off years ahead of schedule.  We can finally think about settling in a home of our own.  The last thing I want to deal with or pay for is damage to our rental house in Germany.  So Bill bought the policy and made me happy.
Sure enough, in late August of this year, we had occasion to use our policy.  We had an old awning attached to our house.  I didn’t use the awning that often, except on days when the sun was especially brutal.  The awning helped keep our living room from getting too hot.  For some reason, this year the awning had started to list a bit.  One side hung lower than the other side did.  We told our landlords and the husband came over to “fix” it.  He did manage to temporarily fix the problem, but our landlady said she didn’t know how long the repair would last.  She did not tell us not to use the awning and, I note, did not have a qualified repair person fix it.  Our landlord is very handy, but I’m not sure he’s an expert on awnings.
For a few weeks, all was fine.  I used the awning a couple of times on hot days with no issues.  Then one warm day in late August, I had cranked out the awning and gone upstairs for a bit.  The wind suddenly gusted and the awning collapsed.  I heard it hit the patio with a resounding thud and there was a loud scrape as the awning violently pushed our outdoor furniture aside.  I went outside to inspect the damage.  The awning is very heavy.  I’m really glad no one was standing under it when it fell, because I’m pretty sure someone could have been seriously hurt or even killed if it had fallen on their head.
The landlady immediately accused me of negligence because I used the defective awning on a hot, “windy” day.  It was not windy when I unrolled it.  The gust of wind had been swift, sudden, and unexpected.  But because I wasn’t sitting outside when the wind blew, and it fell, she claimed I was at fault.  Then she asked about liability insurance after she complained about some dog hair in the doorway and claimed that I wasn’t taking good enough care of the new windows and doors she had installed right after we moved in.
Now… I don’t actually have a problem with using liability insurance for the awning.  After all, insurance is supposed to be used for accidental events like random awning failures.  My issue is that she accused me of negligence.  Frankly, I think if anyone was negligent, it was she.
She finally brought a legitimate repair person over who said the awning couldn’t be fixed.  At the same time, we also happened to be having a problem with the electric rolladens.  I got blamed for that situation, too.  She said we weren’t using them often enough, and that’s why when we pressed the button to get them to come down, one of the rolladens wouldn’t budge.  The actual problem was that rolladen came off track somehow in the wall above the door.  After the repair for the rolladens was done, the landlady eventually admitted that it wasn’t installed properly in the first place.  However, the awning remained a sticking point… she continually sent Bill emails about the insurance money.  
I have to admit, we were both really pissed off and even considering moving over her insistence that we were “bad tenants”.  I’m still pretty angry with our landlady for the way she handled this situation.  However, we did learn yesterday that, after having inspected the damage last week, the insurance company decided to give our landlords 540 euros (although the landlady claims they only gave her 310 euros and reminds us that awnings cost 2800 euros).  That amount more than covers several times over what we paid for the insurance.  Moreover, if I hear another word about the awning, I can tell the landlady that I wasn’t negligent.  It’s because of me that we even had that liability insurance in the first place.
I don’t think she or her husband want us to move.  If we moved, she’d have to vet new people and it’s likely they wouldn’t buy insurance because many Americans seem to think it’s a scam.  Moreover, while we have had a couple of mishaps in the house, we pay our bills and the neighbors seem to like us.  We represent a dependable flow of a lot of euros for a house that isn’t all that great.
The truth is, we don’t want to move, either.  Moving is a pain in the ass.  Finding a place to live in this area is an even bigger pain in the ass.  There’s no guarantee that the next landlords would be any less irritating.  Also, we like the neighborhood where we live.  People are nice here and not overly uptight, as they were in the first neighborhood we lived in when we were here from 07-09.
However, if there’s one thing I learned from this situation, it’s that I’m ready to be a homeowner and because we had insurance, that will be an easier goal to attain.  Folks, if you live in Germany, you really should consider buying liability insurance.  It’s very cheap and if you have an “Unfall” like we did, chances are it will be covered.  I’d rather pay a hundred or so euros for an insurance policy than several hundred euros for an old awning that collapsed due to a sudden breeze.  Just something to think about.
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